Noteworthy Numbers: Liver Cancer 2021

TON - April 2021 Vol 14, No 2

Since 1980, the incidence of liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer has more than tripled in the United States, whereas the death rates have more than doubled during this time.1 In 2020, liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer was considered to be the 13th most common cancer diagnosis.2 The following provides a brief look at some of the key statistics regarding this disease.

Approximately 75% of primary liver cancers in adults are classified as hepatocellular carcinoma. Other types of liver cancers in adults include intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (10%-20%), angiosarcoma (1%), and hemangiosarcoma (1%).3 Hepatoblastoma, a very rare type of liver cancer, is diagnosed in 2 of 3 children aged <4 years.1

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 42,230 individuals (29,890 men and 12,340 women) will be diagnosed with liver cancer in 2021, and approximately 30,230 individuals (20,300 men and 9930 women) will die from the disease.1 This accounts for 2.4% of all new cancer cases and 5% of all cancer deaths.2

Liver cancer diagnosis has increased approximately 2% annually between 2007 and 2016. The disease occurs most often in older adults; approximately 87.2% of people with liver cancer are aged >55 years, with the average age at diagnosis being 65 years. The disease is approximately twice as common in men than in women—it is the 5th most common cause of cancer death in men and the 7th most common cause of cancer death in women.2,4

The most common risk factor for liver cancer is chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection; approximately 65% of liver cancer cases are related to hepatitis B infection and approximately 50% are related to hepatitis C infection.5 Other risk factors include hereditary hemochromatosis, heavy alcohol use, obesity, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.1

The overall 5-year survival rate for individuals diagnosed with liver cancer is 18%, compared with 3% about 40 years ago. Approximately 44% of patients are diagnosed at an early stage and have a 5-year overall survival of 33%. In patients with regional liver cancer (27%), the 5-year relative survival rate is 11%, and in patients with distant liver cancer (18%), the 5-year relative survival rate is 2%.1-3

A new approach to the treatment of liver cancer is the use of the virus, JX-594, the same virus that was used to make the smallpox vaccine. This virus has been altered to infect cancer cells specifically, where it causes apoptosis in the cells or makes proteins that allow the cells to be attacked by the immune system. Preliminary research on the use of JX-594 in patients with advanced liver cancer has been promising, including in patients who have received previous treatments for their disease.1


  1. American Cancer Society. Liver cancer. Updated January 8, 2020. Accessed January 25, 2021.
  2. National Cancer Institute. Cancer stat facts: liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer. Accessed September 29, 2020.
  3. Liver cancer. January 2020. Accessed January 25, 2021.
  4. American Liver Foundation. Learn more about the risk factors for liver cancer. Accessed September 29, 2020.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC fact sheet: viral hepatitis and liver cancer. March 1, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2020.

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